The Kings had been on the tour for more than two hours when rookie Harry Giles’ voice perked up with pride.
He had a personal connection to the display on legendary basketball coach Clarence “Big House” Gaines at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture.
Giles’ father, Harry Giles Jr., played for Gaines at Winston-Salem State University, and he made sure anyone within earshot knew.
During their day off Sunday before facing the Washington Wizards, the Kings made an excursion to the museum, which has had over 3 million visitors since opening last September. The result was over two hours of reflection, discussion and education for players, coaches and support staff about the African American experience starting with slavery and through present times.
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There were moments of upbeat interest during the music and sports sections. There was also a lot of quiet contemplation and shock when looking at many of the artifacts and exhibits from slavery and the Jim Crow-era of American history.
Giles found the visit inspiring.
“With Black History Month coming around soon (in February), I feel like I’m going to take it more seriously,” Giles said. “... I always took it seriously but being able to to see it, feel it and be around other grown men (as a pro athlete) for the first time in my life, and seeing how it touched them to see how serious it is.
“And I can see how things have been going in America the last few years I’ve been growing up, it touched me because it’s relatable. It’s also a wake-up call so I feel I can use my platform and take advantage of it as much as I can. Never forget about that.”
Garrett Temple spends a lot of his free time studying history and relating it to current affairs. He’s not shy about sharing his thoughts on social media, or elsewhere.
Temple served as an impromptu tour guide at times. He explained the 13th Amendment that ended slavery, except as punishment for a crime, and those ramifications to younger teammates while recommending documentaries they could watch to learn more.
He shared stories he’d read about boxer Jack Johnson, too, and how he was brash in the face of racism.
Temple’s father, Collis, was the first African American basketball player at LSU, where Temple would also play, so an interest in history and civil rights is ingrained in him.
Still, he found himself moved by seeing artifacts such as shackles from the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and the memorial to Emmett Till.
The visit made Temple eager to learn more and share his knowledge.
“I pride myself on being a guy, especially recently, trying to learn as much as I can about my history,” Temple said. “Even in today’s society, as African Americans, we aren’t portrayed in the best light at times. This is a place I’ve got to come back to multiple times so I can take it all in.”
Buddy Hield took in as much as he could. He asked a lot of questions, some that made his teammates chuckle, too.
He had questions about slavery and how it was different in America from other parts of the world. He wanted to know if slaves ever had days off because of weather.
Then some remembered Hield only came to the United States for prep school and college basketball, and that he spent most of his life in the Bahamas. So while some might assume he received the same American history education, he did not.
“The Bahamas, it’s a chill vibe, it’s the island, peace,” Hield said. “But when I came America I got to experience how racism is and how everything was carried out here and people really take that seriously.”
Temple said he’s spoken with Hield about some of the social issues that have made headlines, but the museum visit also reminded him of the diversity on the team.
“You forget that not only is he young, but that he’s not from here,” Temple said. “So there are things you think somebody would just know, they don’t know. So with the questions that they’re asking, it’s great to see, and Bogdan (Bogdanovic of Serbia) is very interested, very observant. He’s just very smart.”
Hield described the museum as “mind blowing”
“To see how far the black race has come, and not even just sports but in life,” Hield said. “From slavery and the fight for freedom, I have so much respect for the people fighting to get us justice and a better life to where we are today. Not saying the world is perfect, but they paved the way for us with how much torment they went through for their vision. I wish all our ancestors had a chance to live as we do.”
One of the stories that stood out to Hield was how Jim Crow laws allowed for blacks to be imprisoned for loitering, resulting in them ending up on chain gangs.
“Talking about guys standing on the corner and they’d get locked for five-to-10 years and back to slavery again because they were finding excuses to put them into slavery,” Hield said. “So I have mad respect for the people before us. I just wish life would have been easier for them, but they paved the way for us. All of them, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, the ones that fought and envisioned this life for us, I have mad respect for them. They fought hard for us.”
Giles, who is from North Carolina, left the museum with a new respect for those who made sacrifices, too.
“For me it was great just to be able to come and see different memorials and people who came before me who really made it possible for me to do what I do today,” Giles said. “Just the freedom and back in the day there was really no chance. I’m thankful to learn more about that and I’m excited about it. It was great and something I would come back to definitely to see more.”